UN agency tries to unscramble traffic jam for satellites in geostationary orbit.
London — Up in geostationary orbit, it's getting crowded. The world's governing body in telecommunications is set to review the way slots for satellites are allocated in geostationary orbit 36,000 kilometers (22, 356 miles) above the earth.
But there is a hitch: No one knows how many satellites are already in place in the orbit. This position in space is the most popular one for communications satellites, since vehicles in this orbit appear to hover over a fixed spot on the earth's surface.
As a result, officials at the International Telecommuncation Union in Geneva, a technical agency of the United Nations, have started an arcane exercise in satellite counting.
They have sent off memos to the ITU's 150 or so member countries, asking them to bring the officials up to date on exactly what craft each nation has injected into the orbit.
The data will be compiled into a list of satellites which should be ready for a conference next August at which countries will discuss new procedures for allocating positions in the orbit.
As a result of the demand for telecommunications, the geostationary ring is rapidly becoming clogged.
According to independent estimates, it is home to some 200 satellites, of which roughly 120 are currently sending and receiving signals.
Some countries, particularly from the developing world, fear that all of the most useful positions will be taken by such big space powers as the United States and the Soviet Union, leaving little room for nations that develop space technologies relatively late.
An official of the International Telecommunication Union explained that the current lack of knowledge about satellites in the ring is due to the slow response by governments to previous requests for information.